Nelson Eddy sings at FDR’s 1941 Inaugural Gala – Jeanette MacDonald secretly meets him!

Another fascinating piece of detective work by Katie and Angela.

We know that during the 1940s, when Jeanette and Nelson were both touring the country doing concerts, they tried to coordinate their schedules so that they could meet occasionally for a quick rendezvous. A favorite city for this was Kansas City, in the middle of the country.  They also met in Philadelphia at times, where technically Jeanette would stay with her sister Elsie…which made it all look very legitimate to the fans…but then Jeanette and Nelson were seen staying together in local hotels. (Ie, getting off the elevator together and going to Nelson’s room, Jeanette in minimal disguise leaving Nelson’s concert with him in the same car, etc.)

Since Katie lives in Virginia, she took particular interest in Nelson’s being in that area and singing at FDR’s inauguration ceremonies in 1941. We know that Nelson’s wife Ann accompanied him, as there are photos attesting to that fact.

It is a huge honor for a celebrity to sing at such an event. Both Nelson and Jeanette were friendly with FDR, Harry Truman and Eisenhower. Nelson was also said to have sung at an event for then-Senator JFK and Jacqueline. Politics aside, they were welcomed at the White House from “Naughty Marietta” onward. And in the case of Margaret Truman, she was openly a fan of both – politics be damned!

Nelson not only was the featured male singer on the program but he gave an entire mini-concert! A total of 4 songs (only 3 of them were broadcast on radio). Compare this to the featured woman singer, Rise Stevens, who sang one aria from “Carmen.” The written program noted that no encores would be allowed.

While it would have pleased Nelson to have Jeanette share in his honor singing for FDR in 1941, it was not to be. His wife of record had to be with him. But…as Katie noted on her blog, here is the sequence of very interesting events that Jeanette met up with Nelson to have their own private celebration:

January 18: Jeanette concert, Memorial Hall, Columbus, OHJanuary 19: Nelson sings for FDR inauguration. Ann Eddy is present for this, BUT SHE GOES BACK TO LA RIGHT AFTERWARD. We don’t have any mention of Nelson leaving the East Coast …January 20: Jeanette sings at City Auditorium in Huntington, WV. So she’s about 5-6 hours away from Nelson by train at that point. She hops the train to Pittsburgh, where she is scheduled at Syria Mosque on the 23rd. Now she’s 3.5-4 hours by train from Washington. And, having already arrived in Pittsburgh, after singing to rave success in Huntington, she gets “sick”.Newspapers all pointed out that canceling this Pittsburgh concert on the 23rd was the first time in all her national tours that she had not kept a scheduled date. So either she was really, really, really dying OR she was willing to do it to spend a day or so with Nelson under the radar. Since she sang in Roanoke TWO DAYS LATER to rave reviews (a two hour show and over an hour of encores), was in exceptional voice and generally brought down the house…..I’m basically forced to think that she was not, in fact, dying.

As of January 22nd, her concert had not yet been canceled, but our girl was already on the train to Washington. She was in DC on the 23rd, the day of her canceled Pittsburgh concert, and was supposed to go on to Roanoke, where she was scheduled on the 25th. But, FUNNY STORY, she MISSES HER TRAIN in DC on the 23rd!!

She misses her train.

And she’s “forced” to spend “another” (a word that indicates MORE THAN ONE. So she was there on the 22nd, too.) night in Washington. You know, with Nelson in town and nary a spouse for thousands of miles.


After bringing down the proverbial house in Roanoke, she cancels Asheville, NC, where she was scheduled on the 28th. (Magic! Sick again!!!) This time, her “doctor” orders her to go to Florida to recover from her “cold”. Okay, I don’t care how famous you are, when was the last time ANY of you reading this were sent to Florida to get over a cold?

…All this time, not only is Gene Raymond well-documented in Los Angeles, as is Ann Eddy, there is not one SMELL of where Nelson is or what he’s doing–the only thing that seems certain is that he was NOT in California. No mention of his homecoming from Washington, which would have been mentioned by someone, somewhere.

Wonderful research, Katie, and thanks for adding further proof that Jeanette and Nelson were pros at making their relationship work – even if right under the public’s nose. One wonders how minutely they scheduled their lives to make that precious time for themselves that they so needed. According to the writings of Isabel Eddy, had they not been able to do that, Nelson would have given up singing altogether in the 1940s…there is mention again and again that he would call Jeanette from the road, not certain he could go on that night, ready to chuck it all and give up. Her pep talks kept him going…and he likewise inspired her to continue as well.

Question: Did they visit the White House together or even spend a night there?

My subsequent research has added to what we know about the final days of January 1941. The press can often be wrong about events but in this case provides a timeline of the comings and goings. Here’s more on the cancelled Pittsburgh concert:

Meanwhile, fans speculated on why Nelson chose for his last number at the Inaugural Gala, “How Do I Love Thee?” The date was January 19, 1941; the press noted this was also Nelson and Ann Eddy’s 2nd wedding anniversary. Most fans never truly believed theirs was a love match. But back then they had no way to logistically connect the dots.

Here’s corroboration showing Nelson did remain in the DC area through the end of the month at least. January 30th was FDR’s birthday and Nelson attended the Washington Birthday Ball.

Jeanette did not arrive in Roanoke until the afternoon of her concert there on January 25th.  She sang for over two hours, with many encores concluding with “Indian Love Call.”

It’s not known whether Nelson made the 5 hour train trip to be there, before returning to DC. As detailed in “Sweethearts”, they often attended each other’s concerts if they could coordinate in the same city, sometimes spotted by the public, sometimes not.

Again, as noted by Katie, Jeanette cancelled her next January 28 concert in Ashville, NC, again with a new “sore throat” and was ordered by her doctor to go to Florida to rest.

She supposedly stayed the entire time at a private residence in an Orlando suburb, detailed in the press with her hosts’ names and street name as well. It seems a bit strange that such a potential lack of privacy as to her lodging was allowed.

If she indeed remained in Orlando the entire time in Florida, it again seems strange that she had no brief press interview or any photos of her, to refute the incorrect cancellation rumors.

Did Nelson come to Florida? Or did Jeanette leave Orlando for perhaps an overnight to make a 2-hour trip to St. Petersburg, Florida, a Tampa suburb? Her childhood friend lived there and was one of the few who knew about and accepted Jeanette’s relationship with Nelson Eddy. A confidante who, according to the woman’s granddaughter, welcomed Jeanette and Nelson together – as a couple – in their home. Or… if Jeanette traveled alone, she was known to stay in her friend’s home, sleeping in the extra bedroom.

While some of the Florida trip still begs questions, specifically Jeanette’s activities while in Florida, her Orlando concert was a huge hit. “There must have been a flock of fairy godmothers hovering round when Jeanette MacDonald was born, for in addition to charm and exceptional beauty she has a voice of limpid lyric quality and a personality that endears an audience,” noted the Orlando Sentinel review. “‘She’s Not What You Think She Is’ was another encore done in French and with the most delicate archness and coquetry, telling the light little story of an actress piqued by criticism.”

This story is ever-amazing, as is their crafty skill in living a life that others never knew of. If only they had realized that their fans (most of them) would have stood up and cheered to know the truth!